A Return to First Principles (Part 6), Combating Waste

Now, having revealed the COMET TAILS categories of waste, our job as trainers, as process developers and/or analysts is to structure and teach the way to perform the process in the most efficient, least wasteful manner possible.

Best possible performance = least possible waste

As I look at my department or my organization, my intent is to ensure that overall performance is the best it can be. All processes will fall into one of two categories:

1. The waste in the process is adequately controlled for now

2. The waste in the process is inadequately controlled for now

If a process is sufficiently controlled, then I can describe the process as performed, teach people to perform the process as described, and maintain adequate control on the process. I can then set the process on the “back burner” while looking at other priorities, or I can look to improve process performance (this would truly be defined as continuous improvement)

If a process is not sufficiently controlled, I need to evaluate the process to determine what the nature of the waste (failure modes) is, determine why the process is failing to achieve adequate results, and then study the process to see where changes need to be made. I likely don’t have to dynamite and rebuild the whole process, but can isolate a few factors that are creating the majority of the heartache.

This “heartache” may take the form of waste, and we can identify the categories of waste being created (remembering that waste categories never occur in isolation).

A second possibility may be that the process lacks what is called capability. In any process, there is a natural variation in the outputs that is a function of the inputs. Algebraically speaking:

y = (f) x

where x is an input factor (which varies) and y is the output result influenced by the variation. Capability is the degree to which the outputs of a process meet the requirements of a critical output value (or key characteristic). A process that frequently fails to achieve the desired results (e.g., a measured value within a set of limits) is said to lack capability. Waste may occur in parallel with the lack of capability, and of course waste in the form of Scrap will be a likely outcome.

Lack of capability (i.e., too much variation) is attacked differently than waste. The reason for this is that the variation may be due to factors that are “below the surface.” In other words, turning a dial won’t eliminate the variation (and in fact dial-turning will increase output variation in a process). The discipline known as Six Sigma is an effective approach to analyzing process variation. It relies somewhat heavily on statistical analysis, but also relies on a more thorough understanding of a process (e.g., chemical reactions, physical properties, equipment settings).

Waste is usually more apparent. It is particularly noticeable by the process operators (because they are the ones out looking for materials, waiting for materials or paperwork, and throwing the scrap into the dumpster). The discipline known as Lean Enterprise (also called Lean Manufacturing, or simply Lean) is used to target process waste.

In some circles (and in various certificate programs), the two are combined into a single discipline called Lean Six Sigma. Presumably, the certificate prepares an individual to perform both Six Sigma and Lean analysis, and recognizes that they are separate disciplines (though both share some characteristics).

So how can I analyze the process if I am not a practitioner of Lean (or) Six Sigma, or if I really don’t know how to categorize the process failures I am having? That will be the focus of our next post.

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About Tim James "Mr. Procedure"

A communicator; all-purpose capability in writing, designing and presenting training for all facets of organizational function. While my focus has been manufacturing, my training/development experience includes supervisory and lead person development, audit processes, continuous improvement and Lean, and Quality Management System implementation.
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